In one of the most-watched TED talks of all time, Sir Ken Robinson, a renowned educationist, states that ‘schools kill creativity’. The video is a little over 15 mins and a must-watch for every parent. Ken Robinson says that “as individuals, we are innately creative, however, unfortunately, school education makes us grow out of creativity.” According to him, “creativity is as essential as literacy and we should give it the same emphasis as learning math and science”.
All Children are Born Innovators, however, Education Clips their Creative Wings
As learners, we are born with great curiosity and imagination. NASA scientists devised a test, according to which 98% of children were found to be at par with creative geniuses. This changed as they grew older. By the time they reached adulthood, the number of children who were at par with creative geniuses at a young age scored way below average. Astoundingly only 2% of the adult test subjects were able to pass the creativity test, despite their success with it in their childhood.
It brings us to this most important question of our times: Do schools kill creativity?
Why is there no space for creativity to flourish in the Traditional Education System?
According to education research, there are two fundamental ways for the human mind to generate ideas. The first way is divergent thinking, and it is about generating new possibilities using creativity. The second way is convergent thinking and is about generating ideas by testing, evaluating, and critiquing.
Before children enter the formal education system, both types of thinking co-exist simultaneously in their minds. However, once children get to school, education forces them to subdue divergent thinking and focus on convergent thinking. This mode of education makes children give up on new possibilities when presented with a challenge. Instead, they learn to judge, criticize and censor existing ideas and content and focus less on lateral thinking and new ideas. Convergent thinking has value however it is divergent thinking that is responsible for great ideas, discoveries, inventions, innovations and ventures, all the things that are changing the world. Perhaps the greatest ability is the ability to find new and better ways of doing things. Schools need to strike a balance between convergent and divergent thinking.
Picture this scenario: A regular classroom of six to seven-year-olds. The traditional teacher asks the children to draw a cat. Some children can draw a cat with whiskers, tails and four limbs, while others couldn’t bring the shape of the cat on paper. The teacher rates the work of every child. One that can draw a better cat tends to be considered more creative. The ones that struggle to draw a perfect cat feel they aren’t creative.
Another scenario: Children often learn by looking at an image and correlating a word that represents the image. This small act wires the brain to imitate, rather than innovate. Well known Indian scientist Dr. Nandini Chatterjee (now with UNESCO) has conducted brain studies that confirm that the way schools teach children in India takes away from their ability to innovate. It is no wonder that India is considered to be a land of imitators. We have the human capital to become the land of innovators. We need to change the way we educate.
According to Sir Ken Robinson, the biggest flaw in the traditional education system is that it teaches children that being wrong is the worst possible outcome. Schools force children to conform to paradigms of right and wrong, where only right is acceptable. Ideas from children that don’t fit into a preconceived mold are rejected.
Invention and innovation are functions of experimentation where being wrong is just as important as being right. Thomas Edison succeeded in inventing the light bulb in his 106th attempt. Does that mean he was wrong 105 times? And if his being wrong was not valued, there would have been no 106th attempt and no lightbulb!
Children are born creative, it’s the Role of Schools to Nurture it
As parents, we reflect on our child’s initial years. We didn’t have to teach our child to use his/her imagination. Our child built towers with Legos, pretended he/she was an astronaut, made creative drawings and was fundamentally capable of thinking out of the box. The child was also innately curious, asking questions which naturally led to learning.
Then came to school. Our child had to memorize the entire alphabet along with phonics, numbers, tables, science concepts, languages, and more. Though the child still had plenty of why’s, there was no time to answer these questions. The child was consumed by content, assignments, and tests.
Creativity is not about memorizing content. It both an innate skill (the one we are born with) and a skill that can be improved with practice. It’s about seeing things in new ways and finding innovative solutions while questioning pre-existing ideas and breaking barriers. It’s the art of doing something that has never been done before or in a way in which it has not been done before. It’s the ability to convert dreams into reality.
The World urgently needs Creative Thinkers
In our fast-changing world, there is a massive demand for individuals who can think creatively and can come up with new and better ways of doing things. As technology advances, robots (and artificial intelligence) will soon take over generic and repetitive tasks. With that said, there will be a huge demand for innovators, inventors, creators, musicians, painters, scientists, mathematicians who come up with creative and innovative ideas (and solutions) to the problems facing humanity.
Those who have dared to dream big, to think differently and to challenge the status quo – the likes of Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Alva Edison, the Wright Brothers, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk – are those who have changed the course of history.
Education is not just about memorizing facts so that children can get tested on them. Tests and exams have value, however, they are not enough if we want our children to succeed in the complex world of today and tomorrow. The true essence of education lies in nurturing creativity, fuelling curiosity to create well-rounded children, who are ready to try again and again and do not give up until they finally succeed.
The most important question of the decade is – does our child’s school provide freedom to question, challenge, experiment, make mistakes so they can do what appears difficult or impossible?